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Philip II ( ; ; ) (21 May 1527 – 13 September 1598) was King of Spain (kingdoms of Castile, Aragonmarker and Navarra, this one disputed by the French) and Portugal, Naples, Sicily, and, while married to Mary I, Queen of England and Ireland. He was lord of the Seventeen Provinces from 1556 until 1581, holding various titles for the individual territories, such as Duke or Count.

He ruled one of the world's largest empires which included territories in every continent then known to Europeans.

Philip was born in Valladolidmarker, the son of Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire (who also reigned as Charles I of Spain) and his consort Isabella of Portugal. During his reign, Spain was the foremost Western European power. Under his rule, Spain reached the height of its influence and power, directing explorations all around the world and settling the colonization of territories in all the known continents.

He was described by the Venetian ambassador Paolo Fagolo in 1563 as "slight of stature and roundfaced, with pale blue eyes, somewhat prominent lip, and pink skin, but his overall appearance is very attractive." The Ambassador went on to say "He dresses very tastefully, and everything that he does is courteous and gracious."

Domestic policy

After living in the Netherlands in the early years of his reign, Philip II returned to the peninsula in 1559 and never left it again. Unlike his father, Charles V, Philip was culturally Spanish, a native speaker who chose to rule from Spain rather than to travel constantly around his states. Although sometimes described as an absolute monarch, Philip faced many constitutional constraints on his authority.

Spain was not a single monarchy with one legal system but a federation of separate realms, each jealously guarding its own rights against those of the Crown of Castile. In practice, Philip often found his authority overruled by local assemblies, and his word less effective than that of local lords. The Kingdom of Aragonmarker, where Philip was obliged to put down a rebellion in 1591–92, was particularly unruly.

He also grappled with the problem of the large Morisco population in Spain, forcibly converted to Christianity by his predecessors. In 1569, the Morisco Revolt broke out in the southern province of Granadamarker in defiance of attempts to suppress Moorish customs; and Philip ordered the expulsion of the Moriscos from Granada and their dispersal to other provinces.

Portrait of Philip II in Armour.
"King of all the Spains", 1557.
Despite its immense dominions, Spain was a poor country with a sparse population that yielded a limited income to the crown. Philip faced major difficulties in raising taxes, the collection of which was largely farmed out to local lords. He was able to finance his military campaigns only by taxing and exploiting the local resources of his empire. The flow of income from the New World proved vital to his militant foreign policy, but nonetheless his exchequer several times faced bankruptcy.

Philip's reign saw a flourishing of cultural excellence in Spain, the beginning of what is called the Golden Age, creating a lasting legacy in literature, music, and the visual arts.


Charles V had left Philip with a debt of about 36 million ducats and an annual deficit of 1 million ducats. Aside from reducing state revenues for overseas expeditions, the domestic policies of Philip II further burdened Spain, and would, in the following century, contribute to its decline.

Spain was subject to different assemblies: the Cortes in Castile along with the assembly in Navarremarker and three for each of the three regions of Aragonmarker, each of which guarded their traditional rights and laws inherited when they were separate kingdoms. This made Spain and its possessions difficult to rule, unlike France which, while divided by regional states, had a single Estates-General. The lack of a viable supreme assembly would lead to power being concentrated in Philip's hands, but this was made necessary by the constant conflict between different authorities that required his direct intervention as the final arbiter. To deal with the difficulties arising from this situation authority was administered by local agents appointed by the crown and viceroys carrying-out crown instructions. Philip felt it necessary to be involved in the detail and presided over specialized councils for state affairs, finance, war, and the Inquisition. He played royal bureaucrats against each other, leading to a system of checks and balances that managed affairs in an inefficient manner, sometimes damaging state business, such as the Perez affair. Calls to move the capital to Lisbonmarker from the Castilian stronghold of Madridmarker — the new capital Philip established following the move from Valladolidmarker — could have led to a degree of decentralization, but Philip opposed such efforts. Due to the inefficiencies of the Spanish state, industry was overburdened by government regulations, though this was common to many contemporary countries. The dispersal of the Moriscos from Granadamarker - motivated by the fear they might support a Muslim invasion - had serious negative economic effects, particularly in that region.
Inflation throughout Europe in the sixteenth century was a broad and complex phenomenon, with the flood of bullion from the Americas arguably being the main cause of it in Spain, along with population growth, and government spending. Under Philip's reign, Spain saw a fivefold increase in prices. Due to inflation and a high tax burden for Spanish manufacturers and merchants, Spanish industry was harmed and much of Spain’s wealth was spent on imported manufactured goods by an opulent, status-oriented aristocracy and wars. Increasingly the country became dependent on the revenues flowing in from the mercantile empire in the Americas, leading to Spain's first bankruptcy (moratorium) in 1557 due to rising military costs. Dependence on sales taxes from Castile and the Netherlands, Spain's tax base, was too narrow to support Philip's plans. Philip became increasingly dependent on loans from foreign bankers, particularly in Genoamarker and Augsburgmarker. By the end of his reign, interest payments on these loans alone accounted for 40% of state revenue.

Foreign policy

Philip's foreign policies were determined by a combination of Catholic fervour and dynastic self-interest. He considered himself by default the chief defender of Catholic Europe, both against the Ottoman Turks and against the forces of the Protestant Reformation. He never relented from his war against what he regarded as heresy, preferring to fight on every front at whatever cost rather than countenance freedom of worship within his territories. These territories included his patrimony in the Netherlands, where Protestantism had taken deep root. Following the Revolt of the Netherlands in 1568, Philip waged a bitter campaign against Dutch heresy and secession. It dragged in the English and the French and expanded into the German Rhineland, with the devastating Cologne Warmarker and lasted for the rest of his life.

In 1588 the English defeated Philip's Spanish Armada, thwarting his planned invasion of the country. But the war would continue for the next sixteen years, and itself be linked to a complex series of struggles that included France, Ireland and the main battle zone, the Low Countries. It would not end until all the leading protagonists, including himself, had passed away. Earlier, however, after several setbacks in his reign and especially that of his father, Philip did achieve a decisive victory against the Turks at the Lepantomarker in 1571, with the allied fleet of the Holy League, which he had put under the command of his illegitimate brother, John of Austria. He also successfully secured his succession to the throne of Portugal.

Ottoman-Habsburg Conflict

Flag of Spain under Philip II.

In the early part of his reign Philip was concerned with the rising power of the Ottoman Empire under Suleiman the Magnificent. Fear of Islamic domination in the Mediterranean caused him to pursue an aggressive foreign policy.

In 1558 Turkish admiral Piyale Pasha captured the Balearic Islandsmarker, especially inflicting great damage on Minorcamarker and enslaving many, while raiding the coasts of the Spanish mainland. Philip appealed to the Pope and other powers in Europe to bring an end to the rising Ottoman threat. Since his father's losses against the Ottomans and against Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha in 1541, the major European sea powers in the Mediterranean, namely Spain and Venicemarker, became hesitant in confronting the Ottomans. The myth of "Turkish invincibility" was becoming a popular story, causing fear and panic among the people.

In 1560 Philip II organized a Holy League between Spain and the Republic of Venicemarker, the Republic of Genoa, the Papal Statesmarker, the Duchy of Savoy and the Knights of Malta. The joint fleet was assembled at Messinamarker and consisted of 200 ships (60 galleys and 140 other vessels) carrying a total of 30,000 soldiers under the command of Giovanni Andrea Doria, nephew of the famous Genoese admiral Andrea Doria.

On 12 March 1560, the Holy League captured the island of Djerbamarker which had a strategic location and could control the sea routes between Algiersmarker and Tripolimarker. As a response, Suleiman the Magnificent sent an Ottoman fleet of 120 ships under the command of Piyale Pasha, which arrived at Djerba on 9 May 1560. The battle lasted until 14 May 1560, and the forces of Piyale Pasha and Turgut Reis (who joined Piyale Pasha on the third day of the battle) had an overwhelming victory at the Battle of Djerba. The Holy League lost 60 ships (30 galleys) and 20,000 men, and Giovanni Andrea Doria could barely escape with a small vessel. The Ottomans retook the Fortress of Djerba, whose Spanish commander, D. Alvaro de Sande, attempted to escape with a ship but was followed and eventually captured by Turgut Reis. In 1565 the Ottomans sent a large expedition to Malta, which laid siege to several forts on the island, taking some of them. The Spanish sent a small relief force, which drove the Ottoman army, exhausted from a long siege, away from the island.

The grave threat posed by the increasing Ottoman domination of the Mediterranean was reversed in one of history's most decisive battles, with the destruction of nearly the entire Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Lepantomarker in 1571, by the Holy League under the command of Philip's half brother, Don Juan of Austria. A fleet sent by Philip, again commanded by Don John, reconquered Tunis from the Ottomans in 1573. However, the Turks soon rebuilt their fleet and in 1574 Uluç Ali Reis managed to recapture Tunismarker with a force of 250 galleys and a siege which lasted 40 days. However, Lepanto marked a permanent reversal in the balance of naval power in the Mediterranean and the end of the threat of complete Ottoman control of that sea.

In 1585 a peace treaty was signed with the Ottomans.

Revolt in the Netherlands

Philip's rule in the seventeen separate provinces known collectively as the Netherlands faced many difficulties; this led to open warfare in 1568.

Philip insisted on direct control over events in the Netherlands despite being over a fortnight ride away in Madrid. There was discontent in the Netherlands about Philip's taxation demands. In 1566, Protestant preachers sparked anti-clerical riots known as the Iconoclast Fury; in response to growing heresy, the Duke of Alba's army went offensive, further alienating the local aristocracy. In 1572 a prominent member of the Dutch aristocracy, William the Silent, invaded the Netherlands, but he only succeeded in holding two provinces, Hollandmarker and Zeelandmarker.

The States-General of the Dutch provinces, united in the 1579 Union of Utrecht, passed an Act of Abjuration declaring that they no longer recognized Philip as their king. The southern Netherlands (what is now Belgium and Luxembourg) remained under Spanish rule.

The rebel leader, Prince of Orange (William the Silent) was assassinated in 1584 by Balthasar Gérard, after Philip had offered a reward of 25,000 crowns to anyone who killed him, calling him a "pest on the whole of Christianity and the enemy of the human race".

The Dutch forces continued to fight on under Orange's son Maurice of Nassau, who received help from Queen Elizabeth I in 1585. The Dutch gained an advantage over the Spanish due to their growing economic strength, in contrast to Philip's burgeoning economic troubles.

King of Portugal

Relations with England and Ireland

King of England and Ireland

Philip and Mary I of England.

Philip's father arranged his marriage to 37-year old Queen Mary I of England. In order to elevate Philip to Mary's rank, his father ceded the crown of Naples, as well as his claim to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, to him.

Their marriage at Winchester Cathedralmarker on 25 July 1554 took place just two days after their first meeting. Philip's view of the affair was entirely political. Lord Chancellor Gardiner and the House of Commonsmarker petitioned Mary to consider marrying an Englishman, fearing that England would be relegated to a dependency of Spain. This fear may have arisen from the fact that Mary was – excluding the brief, unsuccessful and controversial reigns of Jane and Empress Matilda – England's first queen regnant.

Under the terms of the marriage treaty, Philip was to enjoy Mary I's titles and honours for as long as their marriage should last. All official documents, including Acts of Parliament, were to be dated with both their names, and Parliament was to be called under the joint authority of the couple. Coins were also to show the heads of both Mary and Philip. The marriage treaty also provided that England would not be obliged to provide military support to Philip's father in any war. The Privy Council instructed that Philip and Mary should be joint signatories of royal documents, and this was enacted by an Act of Parliament, which gave him the title of king and stated that he "shall aid her Highness ... in the happy administration of her Grace’s realms and dominions." In other words, Philip was to co-reign with his wife. As the new King of England could not read English, it was ordered that a note of all matters of state should be made in Latin or Spanish.

Acts which made it high treason to deny Philip's royal authority were passed in Ireland and England. Philip and Mary appeared on coins together, with a single crown suspended between them as a symbol of joint reign. The Great Seal shows Philip and Mary seated on thrones, holding the crown together. The coat of arms of England was impaled with Philip's to denote their joint reign.

Philip's wife had succeeded to the Kingdom of Ireland, but the title of King of Ireland was assumed by Henry VIII after he was excommunicated. In 1555, Pope Paul IV issued a papal bull recognizing Philip and Mary as rightful King and Queen of Ireland. Their joint royal style after Philip ascended the Spanish throne in 1556 was: Philip and Mary, by the Grace of God King and Queen of England, Spain, France, Jerusalem, both the Sicilies and Ireland, Defenders of the Faith, Archdukes of Austria, Dukes of Burgundy, Milan and Brabant, Counts of Habsburg, Flanders and Tirol.

However, they had no children; Queen Mary I, or "Bloody Mary" as she came to be known in English Protestant lore, died in 1558 before the union could revitalize the Roman Catholic Church in England. With her death, Philip lost his rights to the English throne and ceased being King of England and Ireland.

King's Countymarker and Philipstownmarker were named after him.

After Mary I's death

Upon Mary's death, the throne went to Elizabeth I. Philip had no wish to sever his tie with England, and had sent a proposal of marriage to Elizabeth. However, she delayed in answering, and in that time learned Philip was also considering a Valois alliance. Elizabeth was the Protestant daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. This union was deemed illegitimate by English Catholics who did not recognize Henry's divorce and who claimed that Mary I, Queen of Scots, the Catholic great granddaughter of Henry VII, was the legitimate heir to the throne.

For many years Philip maintained peace with England, and had even defended Elizabeth from the Pope's threat of excommunication. This was a measure taken to preserve a European balance of power. Ultimately, Elizabeth allied England with the Protestant rebels in the Netherlands. Further, English ships began a policy of piracy against Spanish trade and threatened to plunder the great Spanish treasure ships coming from the new world. English ships went so far as to attack a Spanish port. The last straw for Philip was the Treaty of Nonsuch signed by Elizabeth in 1585 - promising troops and supplies to the rebels. Although it can be argued this English action was the result of Philip's Treaty of Joinville with the Catholic League of France, Philip considered it an act of war by England.

The execution of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1587 ended Philip's hopes of placing a Catholic on the English throne. He turned instead to more direct plans to invade England, with vague plans to return England to Catholicism. In 1588, he sent a fleet, the Spanish Armada, to rendezvous with the Duke of Parma's army and convey it across the English Channel. However, the operation had little chance of success from the beginning, due to lengthy delays, lack of communication between Philip II and his two commanders and the lack of a deep bay for the fleet. There was a tightly fought battle against the English navy; it was by no means a slaughter, but the Spanish were forced into a disastrous retreat.

Eventually, three more Armadas were assembled; two were sent to England in 1596 and 1597, but both also failed; the third (1599) was diverted to the Azores and Canary Islands to fend off raids. This Anglo-Spanish War (1585-1604) would be fought to a grinding end, but not until both Philip II (d. 1598) and Elizabeth I (d. 1603) were dead.

The defeat of the Spanish Armada gave great heart to the Protestant cause across Europe. The storm that smashed the retreating armada was seen by many of Philip's enemies as a sign of the will of God. Many Spaniards blamed the admiral of the armada for its failure, but Philip, despite his complaint that he had sent his ships to fight the English, not the elements, was not among them. A year later, Philip remarked:

The Spanish navy was rebuilt, and intelligence networks were improved. A measure of the character of Philip can be gathered by the fact that he personally saw to it that the wounded men of the Armada were treated and received pensions, and that the families of those who died were compensated for their loss, which was highly unusual for the time.

While the invasion had been averted, England was unable to take advantage of this success. An attempt to use her newfound advantage at sea with a counter armada the following year failed disastrously. Likewise, English buccaneering and attempts to seize territories in the Caribbean were defeated by Spain's rebuilt navy and her improved intelligence networks (although Cadiz was destroyed by an Anglo-Dutch force after a failed attempt to seize the treasure fleet.)

Even though Philip was bankrupt by 1596 (for the fourth time, after France had declared war on Spain), in the last decade of his life, more silver and gold were shipped safely to Spain than ever before. This allowed Spain to continue its military efforts, but led to an increased dependency on the precious metals and jewels.

War with France

From 1590 to 1598, Philip was also at war against Henry IV of France, joining with the Papacy and the Duke of Guise in the Catholic League during the French Wars of Religion. Philip's interventions in the fighting - sending Alessandro Farnese, to end Henry IV's siege of Paris in 1590 – and the siege of Rouen in 1592 - saving the French Catholic Leagues's cause against a Protestant French monarchy. In 1593, Henry agreed to convert to Catholicism; weary of war, most French Catholics switched to his side against the hardline core of the Catholic League, who were portrayed by Henry's propagandists as puppets of a foreign monarch, Philip. In June 1595 the redoubtable French king defeated the Spanish-supported Catholic League in Fontaine-Française in Burgundy and reconquered Amiens from the overstretched Spanish forces in September 1597. The 1598 Treaty of Vervins was largely a restatement of the 1559 Peace of Câteau-Cambrésis and Spanish forces and subsidies were withdrawn; meanwhile, Henry issued the Edict of Nantes, which offered a high degree of religious toleration for French Protestants. The military interventions in France thus ended in an ironic fashion for Philip: they had failed to oust Henry from the throne or suppress Protestantism in France and yet they had played a decisive part in helping the French Catholic cause gain the conversion of Henry, ensuring that Catholicism would remain France's official and majority faith - matters of paramount importance for the devoutly Catholic Spanish king.

Philip II died in El Escorialmarker in September 1598.


Under Philip II, Spain reached the peak of its power. However, in spite of the great and increasing quantities of gold flowing into his coffers from the American mines, the riches of the Portuguese spice trade and the enthusiastic support of the Habsburg dominions for the Counter-Reformation, he would never succeed in suppressing Protestantism or defeating the Dutch rebellion. Early in his reign, the Dutch might have laid down their weapons if he had desisted in trying to suppress Protestantism, but his devotion to Catholicism and the principle of cuius regio, eius religio, as laid down by his father, would not permit him to do so. He was a devout Catholic and exhibited the typical 16th century disdain for religious heterodoxy.

One of the long-term consequences of his striving to enforce Catholic orthodoxy through an intensification of the Inquisition was the gradual smothering of Spain's intellectual life. Students were barred from studying elsewhere and books printed by Spaniards outside the kingdom were banned. Even a highly respected churchman like Archbishop Carranza, was jailed by the Inquisition for seventeen years for publishing ideas that seemed sympathetic in some degree to Protestant reformism. Such strict enforcement of orthodox belief was successful and Spain avoided the religiously inspired strife tearing apart other European dominions, but this came at a heavy price in the long run, as her great academic institutions were reduced to second rate status under Philip's successors.

Being the most powerful European monarch at a time full of war, and religious conflicts, evaluating the reign of Philip II and the king himself has become a controversial history subject. Even before his death in 1598, his supporters had started presenting him as an archetypical gentleman, full of piety and Christian virtues, whereas his enemies depicted him as a fanatical and despotic monster, keen to inhuman cruelties and barbarism. This dichotomy, further developed into the so-called Spanish White Legend and Black Legend, was favoured by king Philip himself by prohibiting any biographical account of his life to be published while he was alive, and by ordering all his private correspondence to be burned shortly before he died. Moreover, after being betrayed by his secretary Antonio Perez, and when news reached Spain of Perez's incredible calumnies against his former master, Philip did nothing to defend himself, thus letting Perez's tales spread all around Europe. That way, the main image of the king that survives till nowadays was created on the eve of his death, at a time when most European countries were turned against Spain, thus usually depicting Philip from prejudiced points of views, either positive or negative. Although some efforts have been made to separate legend from reality, that task has been proven to be extremely hard, since many prejudices are rooted in the cultural heritage of European countries, and while Spanish-speaking historians tend to assess his political and military achievements, sometimes deliberately avoiding issues such as the king's lukewarmness (or even support) towards Catholic fanaticism, English-speaking historians tend to show Philip II as a fanatical, despotical, criminal, imperialist monster, minimizing his military victories (Battle of Lepantomarker, Battle of Saint Quentin,...) to mere anecdotes, and magnifying his defeats (namely, Invincible Armada, even though at the time those defeats did not result in great political or military changes in the balance of power in Europe. Moreover, it has been noted that objectively assessing Philip's reign would suppose to re-analyze the reign of his greatest opposers, namely Queen Elizabeth I and William the Silent, that are popularly regarded as great heroes in their home nations; if Philip II is to be shown to the English or Dutch public in a more favorable light, Elizabeth and William would lose their cold-blooded, fanatical enemy, thus decreasing their own patriotic accomplishments.

In an example of popular culture, Philip II appears in Fire Over England, a well known 1937 historical drama. Breaking with British artistic tradition, the portrayal of the former king-consort of England is not entirely unsympathetic. He is shown as a very hard working, intelligent, religious, but somewhat paranoid ruler whose prime concern is his country. As he orders the Armada to sail to its doom he admits to having no understanding of the English.

Philip II's reign can hardly be characterized by its failures. He ended French Valois ambitions in Italy and brought about the Habsburg ascendency in Europe. He commenced settlements in the Philippinesmarker and established the first trans-Pacific trade route between America and Asia. He secured the Portuguese kingdom and empire. He succeeded in massively increasing the importation of silver in the face of English, Dutch and French privateers, overcoming multiple financial crises and consolidating Spain's overseas empire. Although clashes would be ongoing, he ended the major threat posed to Europe by the Ottoman navy. He dealt successfully with a crisis that threatened to lead to the secession of Aragon. Finally, his efforts contributed substantially to the long term success of the Catholic Counter-Reformation in checking the religious tide of Protestantism in Europe.


Philip was married four times and had children with three of his wives. Even so, most of his children died young.

Philip's first wife was his double first cousin, Maria Manuela, Princess of Portugal; she was daughter of John III of Portugal and Catherine of Habsburg. The marriage produced one son, at whose birth Maria died.

Philip's second wife was his first cousin once removed, Queen Mary I of England. Mary was significantly older than Philip, and the marriage was political. By this marriage, Philip became jure uxoris King of England, but the marriage produced no children and Mary died in 1558.

Philip's third wife was Elisabeth of Valois, the eldest daughter of Henry II of France and Catherine de' Medici. Their marriage produced five children. Elisabeth died hours after a miscarriage. Their children were:

Philip's fourth and final wife was Anna of Austria, who was also his niece. This marriage produced four sons and a daughter. This marriage would be the first of three uncle-niece marriages that would be in the pedigree of the great grandson of Philip II, Charles II of Spain. Charles's genetically caused diseases would end the Hapsburg line in Spain. Their children were:
  • Ferdinand, Prince of Asturias: 4 December 1571 – 18 October 1578, died young
  • Carlos Lorenzo: 12 August 1573 – 30 June 1575, died young
  • Diego, Prince of Asturias: 15 August 1575 – 21 November 1582, died young
  • Philip: 3 April 1578 – 31 March 1621 (future king, Philip III of Spain)
  • Maria: 14 February 1580 – 5 August 1583, died young


Historical assessment

Anglo-American societies have generally held a very low opinion of Philip II. The traditional approach is perhaps epitomized by James Johonnot's Ten Great Events in History, in which he describes Philip II as a "vain, bigoted, and ambitious" monarch who "had no scruples in regard to means... placed freedom of thought under a ban, and put an end to the intellectual progress of the country". However, some historians classify this anti-Spanish analysis as part of the Black Legend.

The defense of the Catholic Church and the defeat of Protestantism was one of his most important goals. Although he did not fully accomplish this (England broke with Rome after the death of Mary, the Holy Roman Empire remained partly Protestant and the revolt in Holland continued) he prevented Protestantism from gaining a grip in Spain and Portugal and the colonies in the New World, and successfully re-established Catholicism in the reconquered southern half of the Low Countries.

Philip was an austere and intelligent statesman. He was given to suspicion of members of his court, and was something of a meddlesome manager; but he was not the cruel tyrant painted by his opponents and subsequent Anglophile histories. He took great care in administering his dominions, and was known to intervene personally on behalf of the humblest of his subjects.

Philip II died in 1598. His was a painful death which involved a severe attack of gout, fever and dropsy. He died in El Escorialmarker, near Madrid, and was succeeded by his son Philip III. The Philippinesmarker, a former Spanish colony, is named in his honor.

See also



  • .
  • Rodriguez-Salgado, M.J. "The Court of Philip II of Spain". In Princes Patronage and the Nobility: The Court at the Beginning of the Modern Age, cc. 1450-1650. Edited by Ronald G. Asch and Adolf M. Birke. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. ISBN 0199205027.

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